Sunday, December 9, 2007

You Think You Love Movies?

Some people have a passion for football, some a passion for art. Jason Alley has a passion for movies, all movies. He has seen 337 movies (new to him) this year and the year isn’t over yet. He has see somewhere between 120 and 150 movies in the theater. This is average for Jason. For a long time, his daily routine has been to wake up, exercise, watch a Netflix movie while eating breakfast, go to see a movie at the theater, then head to his job as manager of an independent movie theater. That is a daily routine, every day, Monday through Friday.

When he was six, Jason went to see Gremlins. It is one of his earliest memories of falling in love with movies. “I was terrified to go see it because it was the first movie I went to that wasn’t G rated, and I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew that it would be something different than what I had seen before. I even made my mom sit in the back row with me so that I could run out of the theater if I got too scared.” He didn’t get too scared. In fact, Gremlins, as well as The Never Ending Story and Goonies, were the three movies influenced his obsession. “That period in my life, watching those movies, it swept me away. I was hooked on the way movies take you to a different place mentally and emotionally.”

Jason keeps all of his movie ticket stubs, all of them. When he was in high school, he kept a chart on his wall where he gave a star rating to every movie he watched, from zero to four. When he got his first computer, he built his own, simple website where he wrote movie reviews. Seven year later, he is still doing it. “I just like putting my opinion out there, I like reading other people’s opinions. I like debating about stuff.” Check it out.

Jason loves movies so much that he got a job at an independent movie theater. He has been managing the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento for four years. When he was younger, he wanted to direct movies, but after taking some college courses, he realized that there was a lot of technical stuff involved in directing and decided it wasn’t for him. He has thought about writing a screenplay, but is perfectly happy just watching. “To quote John Cusack in High Fidelity, “I’m a professional appreciator.”

Although Jason loves all genres of movies, his favorite is the horror genre. He says horror films instantly take him back to his childhood and why he fell in love with movies. He goes to the Fangoria Convention, which is the biggest horror convention in the United States, every year. “There’s just something about being a horror movie buff that’s different than being a fan of other kinds of movies. When you get two horror movie geeks in a room together, it’s almost like a religious conversation.”

As a child, Jason and his brother bonded over their love of movies. “We had this thing in 1990 when I was in sixth grade and my brother was home after his first year in college and we called it the summer of a thousand movies because we went to the movies every day. And when there wasn’t anything new to see, we would just go see Arachnophobia. We probably saw that movie 12 times that summer.”

What is the favorite movie of someone who watches well over 300 movies every year? Well, for Jason its George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. “I remember the first time I watched it, about halfway through I thought ‘This is something like I’ve never seen before. When you watch a movie that you really love, you get that certain buzz that you don’t get from watching a regular movie.”

What is his least favorite movie? Da Hip-Hop Witch. Rent it on Netflix.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

This is the Way the World Ends

After watching Richard Kelly’s newest sci-fi, time travel film, Southland Tales, I left the theater feeling a little sick to my stomach, my head hurt, and my heart was pounding. These were all for good reasons, I swear. I can’t explain what Southland Tales invoked in me, but it was exhilarating.

Richard Kelly earned a cult following after writing and directing his sci-fi, time travel film, Donnie Darko. This movie gained little acclaim at the box office, but it skyrocketed the acting career of its star, Jake Gyllenhaal and fueled an underground fan base. Donnie Darko was a surreal story of a teenager’s journey through life (and time). I had to watch it five times to even start to get what was going on, but I absolutely loved it anyway. Southland Tales does the same thing.

Set in Los Angeles in the near future, Southland Tales tells of a nuclear attack hear on United States soil and the oppressive legislation that follow the tragic day. It also tells of a war machine running out of fuel, literally. It tells of a (mad) scientist who discovers how to harness the ocean’s constantly moving energy. And it tells of time travel and its potential effects on the end of the world.

T.S. Elliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” Our narrator, played by a facially scared Justin Timberlake, relays the message that Elliot was wrong. The world ends with a big bang caused by a rift in the time/space continuum. Kelly’s vision of the end of existence is full of indecipherable messages and factions of wing nuts who all want to run the country their own way.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who just goes by Dwayne Johnson for this movie, plays a high profile action star and husband to a republican presidential candidate’s daughter (Mandy Moore) who goes missing for three days and awakes in the desert with amnesia. He hooks up with a porn star turned talk show host played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Johnson’s character, Boxer Santaros, writes a screenplay about the end of the world, not realizing how real his fiction tale is.

At the same time, in another part of town Roland Taverner, played by Seann William Scott, is experiencing amnesia as well. He is helping the neo-Marxist group stage a murder that they plan to use as blackmail. He had to be reminded by members of the neo-Marxists that he has taken the identity of his twin brother as a police officer in order to trick Santaros into being involved in the crime. The two unwittingly end up staging the events that end the world.

As the events of the story unfold, so does all ability to understand the plot at all. But it is still a wonderful movie. Like David Lynch or Federico Fellini, Kelly’s film is an abstract art, beautiful to look at, emotionally stirring, but impossible to understand. The artist will tell you that his intent was clearly laid out with that brush stroke up in the left corner, but you will still walk away from it wondering what it was you were looking at. The important thing to remember when watching Southland Tales is not to try to understand the details, but to soak in the stunning canvas and let your emotions guide you through.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Girls Kick Ass!

When you think of action stars, whom do you think of? Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel, Charles Bronson, Jackie Chan, The Rock, even Governor Schwarzenegger. The list of actors one considers action stars goes on and on. Where are the female action stars? Sure, there have been plenty of women who have starred, or more likely co-starred in action movies, but very few of them would be considered action stars. It is time to re-evaluate what makes and action star, and why it seems to always have to be male dominated.

Many women have proven their ability to be box office hits as action stars in the past. Actresses such as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Sigourney Weaver in the Aliens Trilogy, Angelina Jolie as Laura Croft in Tomb Raider and Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil have all played lead roles in these highly successful films where they take center stage as action heroes. They have shown that women can portray fighting skills, weapons proficiency, and brute strength just as convincingly as their male counterparts. It is clear that, with the right screenplay and directing, women are not the box office poison that movie executives seem to think they are.

Let’s start with the ideal action hero. Opinions differ, but we can agree on most of the general aspects. Our hero should be able to drive at speeds of 100 mph or more, or at least be able to look really tough on a motorcycle. They should be able to outrun major explosions and push innocent victims out of the line of projectile shrapnel. They should deliver unbelievably cheesy lines with complete conviction. They should be able to look good, even when they are covered in blood and dirt. They should be able to beat up any number of bad guys that come at them in a given scene. They should always be proficient with at least five different types of weapons (most especially, a bazooka). And they should talk in a low, raspy voice to show just how tough they are (with the exception of Vin Diesel, he talks like a Muppet, but still kicks ass).

Of the minimal list of characteristics that one could assume would make for an ideal action hero, not one of them are exclusive to the male population. Let’s use Milla Jovovich as an example (she has starred in more action films that any other female). She has, in her various movies, looked really cool on a motorcycle, outrun exploding buildings, convincingly said some pretty awful lines, looked great covered in blood and dirt, beat up groups of genetically altered bad guys, blown away all kinds of stuff with all kinds of guns, not to mention her moves with a sword, and has even used the raspy voice when she was really pissed off.

Knowing that women can do anything men can do when it comes to being an action hero, there doesn’t seem to be much of an argument for why there are not more of them. Sure, there have been a few female-fronted flops like cat-woman and Electra, but there are also plenty of male dominated stinkers like Daredevil and anything starring Dolph Lundgren.

Young girls need role models to look up to too. Women should no longer settle for the secondary action characters. Writers should stop creating roles that, for no legitimate reason, have to be filled by men. Movie executives should take a look at the box office numbers when deciding whether to take the risk on a film starring women. This could be just another way in which women could rise above the inequality that continues to thrive in this nation and show the newer generations that girls DO kick ass.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Pushing Daisies" is a Bouquet of Fun

ABC is in full bloom this fall with its whimsical new show, “Pushing Daisies.” The newest creation by Brian Fuller, writer of “Dead Like Me” and “Wonderfalls,” is brimming with freshness and originality. The highly stylized and bright color scheme makes this show seem like a child’s storybook tale, which contrasts nicely with the overall theme, death.

Within the first few minutes of the pilot, a nine-year-old boy named Ned witnesses his beloved dog, Digby, getting run over by a semi-truck. Ned discovers his gift after bringing Digby back to life by touching him. The sweet melody of the soundtrack mixed with soothing narration by the familiar voice of Jim Dale (performer of the “Harry Potter” audio books) makes this tragedy light-hearted. Even though young Ned proceeds to accidentally kill his childhood-crush’s father, and then his own mother, you never feel sad for the boy because it all seems like a candy-filled dream.

The basic plot of “Pushing Daisies” is that Ned can bring people back to life by touching them. The twist is that if he touches them again, they will die, but if he doesn’t touch them again within 60 seconds, then someone else nearby will have to take their place. This makes for an interesting love story since he had to bring his long-lost sweetheart, Charlotte Charles (Chuck) back to life.

Ned grows up to become a pie maker. He helps fund his burgeoning business by moonlighting as a detective with his partner, Emerson Cod, (Chi McBride). He brings murder victims back to life just long enough to find out who killed them, and then he collects the reward.

Lee Pace, who plays Ned, gives the character just the right amount of innocence and vulnerability. Chuck, played by Anna Friel, is a spunky, fun-loving character and you can see why Ned had been pining for her for 20 years. Olive Snook, played by Kristen Chenoweth often steals the scene with her unusual obsession with Ned (she is known to break out in song when feeling especially heartbroken).

The witty dialogue is delivered with great timing by all involved and the punch lines are often laugh-out-loud funny. Visually, “Pushing Daisies” is like watching panda bears eat giant lollipops. And, unlike some of the other death-themed shows like “Ghost Whisperer” and “Medium,” it makes light of taboos that are normally handled with kid gloves.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

The advances in technology have simultaneously connected nations to each other and isolated individuals from their next-door neighbor. Children know more about computers than their parents. Teachers are losing touch with ways to keep their student’s interest. The digital age is constantly reinventing itself and leaving older generations in the dust.

Use of computers and the Internet in the classroom has been an ongoing discussion between school boards and parents for a few years now. The lack of proper training among teachers, and the seemingly over abundance of knowledge about computers that students have is increasingly become a wedge that keeps technology from working in the classroom.

The younger generations are becoming more computer-savvy all the time. Only a decade ago, handheld computers were an oddity. Now, anyone can access the Internet with gadgets the size of a calculator. Kids want the newest trend and the trend is technology.

Many states across the U.S. have started programs to supply laptops for students called the 1-to-1 Initiative. The hope is that students with personal computers will be less likely to skip school and be more engaged in classroom learning. In May of 2006,New York enacted the 1-to-1 Initiative, which promised an overall improvement in student achievement. By May of 2007, many schools in New York dropped the program because students had been using computers to cheat on tests, download pornography, and hack into businesses. In April of 2007, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement among students with or without computers.

There are no restrictions on laptops in most college classrooms. Students often use them for note taking. Some teachers encourage the use of computers among students in order to help them learn the technology they will need when they graduate. Journalism majors at Sacramento State are encouraged to take computer related classes because of the way news writing has continued to grow on the Internet.

Students use computers for more than just note taking though. Most students spend their time on myspace or craigslist. Instant messaging is quickly replacing those annoying, lecture-interrupting phone calls. The college student who is surfing the net instead of paying attention is the one who suffers. Why should teachers care whether students are paying attention? They are paying for their education; it is their choice what they do with it. The distractions come for those who actually are paying attention and are taking notes. It is very difficult to pay attention to a statistics lecture when the person sitting in front of you is looking at pictures of Britney Spears giving a beaver shot. Even the clickity-clack of typing on a keyboard can make it hard to listen to the professor.

One good thing about Internet access for students is that they are able to search for more information about a subject while a professor is talking. If an art teacher is discussing the importance of Stonehenge, a student can do a “google” search and discover more interesting facts about the manmade anomaly.

However, Internet use in the classroom has become such a distraction that some universities, like Bentley College, have set up on/off switches for individual classrooms so that teachers have the option of restricting Internet use.

The distance between younger digital savvy generations and older technologically challenged generations is too big right now to make any real advancement in classroom interactions. As these tech kids get older and start to saturate the workplace, they may find a way to incorporate education and computers, but for now, it seems that teachers and professors have not found that connection yet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

True Love food is truly unlovable

Set in the midst of a Victorian neighborhood in midtown Sacramento is an unassuming coffee house run by the legendary punk band Seven Seconds’ front man, Kevin Seconds, and his wife Allison. The duo started their business together on J Street in 2001, naming it True Love Coffee. They had live music almost every night, and stayed open late on the weekends in order to serve post-drinking waffles. The business temporarily closed, but they opened the doors to the current location on K Street in November 2006.

A multi-roomed, low-lit atmosphere with red, yellow and purple walls gives the True Love a cozy home vibe. There is outdoor seating in the front and back, complete with heaters for the cooler weather. The tables inside are two-seaters, which add to the coziness of the interior. There are strings of lights draped around various columns to help with the ambiance. This would be a great place to meet for a coffee date.

There are a wide variety of hot drinks to choose from. The normal coffee drinks like white mochas and cappuccinos are just right. You can even get your drink of choice made with soymilk and they taste delicious. They also serve hot teas like blood-orange tea as well as iced tea. The True love knows how to make a good tasting hot drink.

When it comes to food though, the True Love is in poor shape. Among various Panini sandwiches and salads, the menu also includes Tabouli with cucumber, tomatoes and pesto, which there is nothing special about. It tastes vegan, but at least the pesto isn’t too strong. There is also a humus plate with pita bread. The sun-dried humus is flavorful, but only slightly better than what is available at the grocery store. You can get a falafel plate with spicy humus. It is about the same as the falafel from Hana’s Deli on K Street. It is good, but nothing to write home about.

If vegan is not your style then there are also dishes for the cheese-lovers. You could get a plate of nachos, which look like something you would get at the school cafeteria. Canned nacho cheese is smothered over round corn chips and it is topped with sour cream and olives to add color. They offer black beans instead of refried, which helps with the overall lack of flavor, but it is mediocre at best. As Michael Althouse says, “They are competent nachos, but there is nothing special about them.”

They also have a burrito plate that comes with chips and salsa. The same round corn chips are served along side what tastes like Pace brand salsa. The burrito is made with melted cheese and heavy refried beans that taste like they have been cooked just below room temperature in a saucepan for far too long. The burrito is grilled on a Panini grill for some reason, which does not help the flavor, but instead makes it taste stale. Be warned of the burrito plate, it will sit in your stomach for days like a bag of wet sand.

The only good food item at the True Love is the bagels. They serve Noah’s bagels, which are by far the best bagels around.

Overall the True Love is perfect if you want to have a delicious drink while you play checkers or Connect Four with your friends (something available to patrons free of charge), but the food resembles what is served at a bar, mediocre and just part of the menu so that when customers get hungry, they won’t leave to find food somewhere else.

The True Love is at 2315 K Street In Midtown Sacramento. The phone number is (916) 448-LOVE and the web address is Hours are Sunday – Thursday 11:00 AM – Midnight. Friday and Saturday 11:00 AM– 1:00 AM

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bishop's Pumpkin Farm

Halloween is a tradition that has lasted many generations. The celebration originated as a Pagan holiday by the Celts in Ireland called Samhain and was brought to Northern America in the 19th century by Irish and Scottish immigrants. It is now celebrated around the world with slight adjustments to each region’s culture and religion.

In addition to wearing costumes, trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, and carving pumpkins, visiting pumpkin farms has become a tradition in the Untied States.

Bishops Pumpkin Farm in Wheatland California is one of those farms. Bishops is just under an hour from Sacramento and well worth the trip. The farm includes all the excitement that a Halloween junky is looking for, and it is family friendly as well.

Bishops has acres of pumpkins ranging from hand-sized to as much as 200 pounds. They specialize in Winter Luxury pumpkins, which are great for pies. The fields are so big that they have included free hayrides to help cart you around, especially if you have to carry a 200 pounder.

They also have a three-acre corn maze complete with a maze challenge that helps you navigate through the field. The stalks are at least eight feet tall so you have no idea where you are, or if you’ve already been at that spot before. If you complete the challenge, you win a prize.

Another adventure at Bishops is Coyote Mountain Mines. Coyote Mountain has a 30-foot and a 50-foot slide and a stream below where you can pan for marbles. This adventure is more exciting for the kids, but if you are young at heart, you will love to plummet 50 feet to the bottom. Plus, you get to keep the marbles that you find!

You can also ride the BPF Railroad while you are there. The train takes you on a tour of the entire farm, including the apple and walnut orchards and right past the horses. The train ride is a great way to relax and rest up after seeing the pig races and the chicken show.

The best part of the trip to Bishops is the food. This year, the farm has built “Pigadeli Square.” Here, you can munch on pizza, corndogs, hamburgers, BBQ tri-tip sandwiches and delicious icecream. Mrs. B.’s Bakery offers baked goods that Martha Stewart would envy. The apple-pumpkin muffin is the mort popular item, but make sure you take home a pumpkin pie. Bishops is the only farm where you can get a from-scratch pie made with pumpkins fresh from the farm.

Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm is open every day at 9 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. on weekdays, 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Admission is free, but it costs $8 to park on the weekends, and the maze, train, and mountain each cost $3.50. If you plan on participating in all three adventures, then you can get a fun pack for $8.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Future is Here.

Andy Warhol once made a prediction that in the future everyone would have fifteen minutes of fame. The future has arrived in the form of youtube. There are many other streaming video websites on the Internet that follow the same format, some of them are much better, like megavideo or tvlinks, but none have been so pervasive as the google-owned youtube network.

A perfect example of the “ten minutes of fame” theory is the self-directed video by Gary Brolsma lip-syncing to the song, Dragostea din tei by the German band O-Zone. If you type “singing guy” into youtube’s search engine, this video is ranked number one out of 19,000 singing guys. Brolsma’s low-quality, homemade video caught the attention of so many fans that hundreds of parodies have been made in response. It became so popular that a new phrase was coined, the “Numa Numa” dance. Brolsma’s fame prompted him to make a higher quality follow-up video called New Numa.

Amateur directors have received their mark of fame on youtube as well. Millions of songs have been re-imagined by digital camera owners with delusions of grandeur. The Tony award-winning Broadway play, Avenue Q includes the song, “The Internet is for Porn.” This clever song about the “real” use of the Internet has been parodied by a number of directors, but the best one is the World Of Warcraft parody. It comes from a website called, but the youtube version has been added by over 200 fans. It is well done and hilarious to see characters from the video game doing their own Numa Numa dancing to the song.

Celebrities have also had their hands in the proverbial cookie jar of youtube. Will Ferrell, co-creator of the video website stars in the Adam McKay directed short film called, “The Landlord.” Ferrell had an uncomfortable confrontation with his drunken landlady played by two-year-old baby, Pearl. The original short has since been removed for copyright reasons, but the parodies go on and on. Clark Duke and Michael Sera wrote and stared in the TV shorts series, “,” a CBS experiment with internet-only show releases. The ten-minute shorts are delicious morsels of comic genius that can all be found on youtube, as well as some post-show revisits and some great stand-up work by the duo.

Before youtube gained so much popularity, you could watch a whole episode of your favorite TV show. You had to watch it in ten-minute increments, but it was worth it to see funny BBC sitcoms that hadn’t made it to the United States in any other way. The latent fame of shows like “The IT Crowd” has since prompted the BBC to make them available on DVD to us.

By far the best reason to visit youtube is the music videos. There is almost no stone unturned when it comes to the millions of bands posted. The live performances are some of the most rare glimpses at bands that you may never see play live. Lipcream is a Japanese hardcore punk band that started in 1983. You can find videos of this band playing live back in the mid to late 80s. Obscure bands can be found on youtube as well, including your friend’s brother’s band that you saw play at the local bar last week. If you just want to watch funny music videos, White and Nerdy by Weird Al Yankovic is a hit. Yacht Rock is a series of shorts that makes fun of easy-listening musicians such as Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.

Youtube is one of the Internet’s greatest achievements, allowing amateurs and professionals to share the limelight in a vast sea of time-wasting ten-minute clips. So you had better get busy if you want your fifteen minutes of fame (or ten).

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Life of an Outdoorsman is the Life for Me

He stands six feet and two inches tall, has a thick white beard which obscures most of his face, and wears a lucky bear claw around his neck at all times. Tom Stienstra epitomizes the great outdoors, something he has been writing about for more than a quarter of a century. His passion and enthusiasm for wildlife has led to a career as an outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, a job as the host of a TV show, 12 books on outdoor adventuring, and almost 100 awards for his various writings.

Tom loves the outdoors. He spends more time enjoying nature and wildlife than he does actually working. He has hiked more than 25,000 miles and visited almost 100 lakes. He has boated across most of the California coastline and has caught world-record fish. Recently he has averaged 180 adventures per year and has no plans to slow down. His life is nature.

When he was nearly 20 years old, Tom tried out for the Oakland A’s. He had been playing baseball for most of his life. He was really good, but according to the A’s coach, not good enough. His dreams were crushed. Tom became a sports writer for a local newspaper at the time, but something about it wasn’t quite right. He was beginning to feel that he had more passion for baseball than the players did.

“I was covering the Oakland Raiders and, I remember that moment where there were 60,000 fans in need of a hike, and 22 guys out there in need of a rest.”

He didn’t want to be on the sidelines of his writing career anymore. He wanted to take place in the action that he was writing about. He wanted to be a wildlife adventurer, so he quit his job at the paper after the season was over. He grabbed his backpack, his guitar and his dog and hit the road. Soon, he was selling his articles to the San Francisco Examiner, and after a rough road to the top, he finally got his gig. The previous outdoors columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, Ed Neal, was retiring and they offered the job to Tom.

“People say, ‘How did you ever create a life like you’ve got?’ And the answer is, I refuse to do anything else.”

He has spent almost every day of his life since then working to capture the majesty of the wildlife experience. His love and devotion to nature, especially in Northern California, shows through with every word he writes. He says that he truly feels that his life is blessed because he gets to spend so much of his time reveling in the outdoors.

“Being in the outdoors is the most humbling thing there is, and to be in the greatness of it, we’re just lucky to be surrounded by it and to take in all the five senses that are out there.”

In 2005, Tom was offered a job as a TV host for San Francisco’s CBS station for his own outdoor adventure show called, The Great Outdoors with Tom Stienstra. The show did so well that it was picked up by other CBS affiliates, including Sacramento’s CW-31, where it faired even better for ratings. In 2007, the show has over 600,00 viewers and plays every week on three different CBS-affiliated channels.

Today, Tom is doing exactly what he wants to do. He lives everyday to the fullest and never takes advantage of his time. He is always planning adventures in order to take in the wildlife, even if it’s just for a few hours.

“Always have a place to go to as a refuge where you can find what I call ‘A power of place’ and all of the other stuff that happens along the way- the fish, the wildlife, the weather-that is the unexpected and what makes it a fortune hunt.”

Monday, October 1, 2007

Technology Has Done it Again

In the early 1970s every single movie theater in Sacramento County employed union projectionists. Now, in 2007, there is one theater left using the union. There are only seven projectionists in Local 50. The Crest Theatre employs them all. Union-paid projectionists are a dying breed, and they will never repopulate the movie industry.

In the early days of the movie theater development, projection work was a trade skill. Projectionists had to know a lot about the mechanics of their work. Film was run on reel-to-reel until the mid 1970s. That meant they had to constantly be ready to transfer film from one reel to another. Every 20 minutes the film had to be switched from one machine to another as the reels ran out. Burn marks in the film signaled the projectionist to switch from machine number one to number two, and if done correctly, it went unnoticed by the viewing audience. After the machine switched over, the projectionist set up the unused machine to run the next reel.

By the early 1980s, movie projector technology progressed, allowing the projectionist to only have to make one change over in a film. Movies were still run on reel-to-reel machines though, and projectionists still had jobs.

Technology became the downfall of the industry as the advent of the automated machine was developed in the mid 1980s. That machine was the death toll for the union projectionist. They no longer had to remain in the booth to watch the film and change the reels. Film was “built” onto a platter big enough to hold the entire film and then automatically sent to the projector. Automated machines were also set up to dim and raise the lighting as well as lift the curtain of the movie screen. This allowed the projectionist to just push a button to start the movie, and then go out for lunch for a few hours.

Major corporations like Century Theaters and United Artists caught on that projectionists’ jobs were less demanding and by the 1990s they took union projectionists off the payroll and hired minimum-wage employees that were trained by the union workers they replaced. Making the profit margin for big businesses grow even wider.

The unfortunate result of losing union projectionists is that film work is no longer treated as an important element of the movie viewing experience. During the union’s heyday, projectionists had to pass a test, proving they were worthy of the trade. They cared about the film, making sure each reel was spliced correctly, and that there were no scratches on the print. Today, moviegoers are subject to dim lighting and scratches on the film, missing seconds in the movie due to poor splicing, and even films that start in the middle because the projectionist didn’t know how to properly build the film onto the platter.

The future of projectionists is even worse. In California there are approximately 100 theaters employing union projectionists, most of them on a part-time basis. Only major metropolises like Los Angeles and New York have any significant numbers among them. As technology continues to progress, all projectionists, not just union-paid ones, will become obsolete.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Do You Even Know What's In That?

How often do you go out to eat? Statistically, you probably eat out four or more times per week. Do you know how many calories are in the food you eat at a restaurant? Most likely you don't. That is unless it comes off of the "eating light" section of the menu. Did you know that a chicken Caesar salad at the Macaroni Grill has more fat than a barbecue chicken pizza? Neither did 90 percent of people questioned in a Field Poll survey conducted in March 2007.

According to the Field Poll, Californians have no idea what they are eating when they go to a restaurant. The telephone survey asked four multiple choice questions regarding fat, salt, and calorie content of food items on the menu at certain chain restaurants. Not on single person answered all four of them correctly.

Lack of knowledge of the content of food is a huge factor in obesity. While it is important to recognize that proper diet and exercise is the weapon to combat obesity, it should also be noted that restaurants in general, and fast food specifically have a obligation to communities to give them tools that will help them make informed decision about what they eat.

California is fast becoming an obese society and a major part of the problem is the convenience of eating out. As time goes on, we see more convenient food being packaged for our consumption. With a growing amount of the population existing in two-income families, there is less time to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients. Going out to eat has become the easiest, and sometimes fastest way to get dinner for the family. If parents were given the nutritional value of the food they ordered, they might make different choices on what to feed their children. Most people read the label at the grocery store in order to check the health factor of their food. In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed, requiring nutrition labels on food. People have gotten so used the reading labels that it is hard to remember a time when you didn't know how many servings were in a family-size bag of potato chips. Since then, the public has become significantly more aware of ingredients that are bad for you. For instance, trans fat, or partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Why shouldn't we have the right to nutritional labeling at restaurants as well?

The American Heart Association has teamed up with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy as well as the American Cancer society to sponsor a bill that would make it mandatory for restaurants to post nutrition information on their menus. Senate Bill 120 has been passed by the Legislature and is headed to the Governor's desk for approval.

The California Restaurant Association is not happy about the bill's passing. President and CEO, Jot Condie says that having nutrition labels on menus will not have any affect on obesity rates. When you read the Field Poll statistics and see how many people are not just uninformed, but misinformed about food content in restaurants, it seems hard to believe that the restaurant industry has nothing to do with obesity.

This new bill would only effect chain restaurants that have more than 14 locations in California, so the burden of cost is nothing compared to the affect of the future health of our children and ourselves. In fact, cost is the only thing that the California Restaurant Association is complaining about. Of course, they are not going to admit to their concerns that if Californians saw how unhealthy their meal was, they would start to demand better alternatives. Just like they did with grocery store labels.

Senate Bill 120 is nothing but good news for Californians by allowing them to make better informed decisions on what they eat at a restaurants, and nothing but bad news for the multi-billion dollar mega corporations, by forcing them to make new menus. Does anyone have a problem with that?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

3:10 to Yuma Misses the Train

Set in the dry climate of 19th century Arizona, 3:10 to Yuma is the story of a down-and-out farmer on the verge of losing his land due to shady antics from a rival land owner that he owes money to. The protagonist of the story, Dan Evans is a self-loathing family man who spends the whole movie attempting to prove to his son William, played by child star Logan Lerman, that he can be the hero that the boy reads about in pulp novels. Ben Wade, the thieving, murdering, womanizing bandit that's causing such a stir appears to have a soft side. He has charisma, he has a sense of morality, and he's an artist. Evans is hired by a railroad company to escort Wade to Contention where he will be placed on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. Through a series of unfortunate events, including Wade's uncanny ability to suddenly have the mobility to kill some of his captors, Evans ends up being the only escort left to get the prisoner on the train. While in Contention, Wade's posse catches up and finds ways to make life very hard for Evans while waiting for the train. This is the part of the film that is supposed to show how each of the lead characters are deeper than you thought, but they just seem to leave a lot of unanswered questions.

Christian Bale convincingly played the part of Dan Evans. Bale has the incredible ability to seamlessly slink into any character thrown at him without the viewer questioning how he could possibly go from super-villain (American Psycho) to super-hero (Batman) and then to the Wild West. Bale will never suffer the dreaded issue of typecasting in Hollywood.

Russell Crow holds his own with his rendition of Ben Wade. He doesn't blend into the scenery quite as well, but Crow is certainly believable as the "jerk with a heart-of-gold." After all, that's the role he was born to play. Crow has the ability to have a twinkle in his eye while he blows the brains out of his cohorts in crime.

The minor characters were played well by an all-star cast including Peter Fonda as the weathered hired-hand, Byron McElroy and Alan Tudyk as the comic-relief, Doc Potter. Ben Foster outshined every one with his portrait of Ben Wade's overly enthusiastic right-hand man. Even young Lerner shows how torn the boy is about the love he has and contempt he feels for his father's ineffectual life-style.

Aside from being well cast, this movie left much to be desired. There was a definite homage to old, western style movie making in the way that it was a heavily character driven movie with a lot of grit and realistic backdrops. However, there was something about this film that always reminded you that this was just a movie. The characters themselves were one-dimensional, even though the story attempted to make them multi-layered. Many times throughout the film, it was easy to think, "Now, why would he do something like that?" The dialog seemed hollow and forced. The plot constantly fell into unbelievable scenarios by trying to convince you that the good guy and the bad guy were destined to be friends, even at the cost of long-standing loyalties from their pasts. The character development seemed heavy-handed, you were constantly being hit over the head with how 'good' the bad guy was. It was also glaringly obvious that Crow was very uncomfortable on a horse.

Although the acting of the entire cast was far above average, there is only so much one can do to make tasty omelets out of bad eggs.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don't Mess With Your Food Server

It has happened to all of us at least once; you sit down to a nice, expensive dinner at a restaurant, expecting to be catered to by a pleasant waiter or waitress. Instead you are ignored for a while, and when your server finally comes to take you’re order, there are no apologies for lake of attentiveness and the attitude is full of loathing. The food takes forever, your drink is never refilled, and your server seems to have forgotten you exist -right up until the check arrives.

Your service was bad, there is no mistaking that. But don’t take it so personal. No one is out to get you. Your server was not actively attempting to ruin your day (unless you deserved it, and you know who you are). Food servers are real people too. Often times, they have a lot more to deal with than you realize, and sometimes you end up on the receiving end of their bad day. Maybe your server had a headache. Maybe he or she just got dumped, or was in a car accident. Maybe the person bringing your food to you has been studying for a test, or is dealing with a misbehaving child. Maybe you were just a total jerk. The concept that one should “leave their troubles at home” is a joke. Nowhere else in the workforce is that ideology more expected than in food service. If you are fighting with your spouse, are you expected to not only keep it to yourself, but also expected to be smiling and happy while people around you demand things from you every minute of your workday? That happens to food servers everyday of their life. Try giving them a break.

It is also ridiculous to assume that your food server is your own personal servant. That is the person who is handling your food. There is nothing to stop them from messing with it. You should be doing everything you can to please your server, not the other way around, in order to make sure your pasta doesn’t have that “extra” ingredient. Somewhere along the way, the whole customer service rule got way out of hand. Who decided that it was ok to yell at someone or call them horrible names simply because “the customer is always right.” Guess what, right after you told that woman she was stupid and slow, she “accidentally” dropped your steak on the floor drain in the kitchen.

Sure, there are health and safety laws that should keep that from happening, but there’s not. There is no OSHA guy sitting in the back, regulating the cleanliness of your food. There is no magical protective charm cast on your hamburger to keep a disgruntled employee from spitting on it. And if you think the restaurant manager is watching out for that sort of thing, think again, Restaurant managers were once food servers too, and they also have bad days.
Food servers are the controllers of your food. If you are smart, you will take my advice and try not to piss them off.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Candy Wisdom for the Masses

There are some things in life that everyone knows to be true. Time flies when you’re having fun. It always rains the day after you wash your car. The price of candy at the movies is outrageously overpriced.
The story is universal at all movie theatres. A customer will belly up to the candy stand to order a box of popcorn and a soda. He’ll ask the concession worker how much a small popcorn is. When the minimum-wage paid employee recites the various prices, the response is almost always the same. “Four dollars for that! Is it gold plated or something?” or, “For that price you should have to sing me a song too.” The employee will give a polite, half-hearted chuckle, offer butter on the popcorn and think to herself “I’m not the one pricing the popcorn, so why is this guys getting upset with me.”

The price of snacks your local movie theatre is high, ridiculously high, but for a reason. Theatre owners are not looking to gouge you on candy because you’re trapped inside with no way out, starving and thirsty, hoping to get a snack fix. There isn’t an evil man, twirling his mustache in the back room, laughing maniacally every time someone buys a box of Juju B’s. In fact, most theatres have a very lax, don’t ask-don’t tell policy on bringing in your own food if it is well hidden. The reason the prices are so high is that concession is the only place where theatres make any sort of profit.

If the theatre is running with a minimal crew of only five staff members; box office attendant, usher, concession worker, manager and projectionist, and assuming that all staff are paid minimum wage, including the manager, one movie would have to bring in seven paying customers (at a ticket price of at least $9.00) just to cover the cost of wages for its employees. That number does not include the price of rent, the cost of gas and electricity or any of the other odds and ends that theatres owners have to pay for to keep the doors open. Additionally, that number is loosely totaled since most theatres only make a (sliding scale) percentage of the box office profits, having to share the rest with the movie’s distributor.

With the high cost of showing a movie, and the increasingly declining attendance numbers at the average movie theatre, the only way to make a real profit is through concessions. The mark up on candy averages 200 percent and is as much as 300 percent in come cases. The candy isn’t any better than what you buy at the market. Cost does not follow the rule of supply and demand. The only reason movie theatres continue to stick it to consumers in the snack department is that by charging an exorbitant amount for your popcorn, they are able to turn a profit and continue to offer you a nice, relaxing evening at the movies.

So the next time you patronize your local movie theatre, make sure to stop by the candy stand and stock up on the over-priced snacks. You might even want to say thanks to the underpaid employee. After all, it takes them two hours to make what you just spent on a box of popcorn and a coke.